Straight to the Facts: Gonorrhea

  • Caused by sexual contact with an infected person

  • Most people have no signs or symptoms

  • If you have symptoms, they can include:

    • Abnormal discharge from the vagina or penis

    • Vaginal bleeding

    • Burning during urination

  • Can be infected in the mouth, vagina, urethra, or anus

  • Can be spread by oral sex, vaginal sex or anal sex

  • Tested with a urine test and pelvic exam

  • Treated with antibiotics

  • Not getting treated could lead to infertility

  • Can be passed to baby during birth

Gonorrhea is a bacterial STI caused by the microbe Neisseria gonorrhoeae. It can infect both men and women and can cause serious health effects if it is not treated.


Most people who have a gonorrhea infection do not have symptoms, so they do not know they are infected. But, even if you have no symptoms, gonorrhea can still lead to infertility in women or epididymitis in men.


The only way to know for sure that you have gonorrhea is to get tested. The CDC recommends that women under the age of 25 get tested every year. If you become pregnant, you should get tested. If you or your partner have symptoms, you should get tested.

How Do I know I have it?


Most people with gonorrhea have no signs or symptoms. However, men who have symptoms may have a burning sensation when urinating, a white, yellow, or green discharge from the penis, and painful or swollen testicles. Most women with gonorrhea do not have any symptoms. Symptoms in women can include a painful or burning sensation when urinating, increased vaginal discharge, and vaginal bleeding between periods. Rectal infections may either cause no symptoms or cause symptoms in both men and women that may include discharge, anal itching, soreness, bleeding, and painful bowel movements. You should be examined by your doctor if you notice any of these symptoms or if your partner has an STD or symptoms of an STD.

Women under 25 and people with multiple sexual partners should get tested gonorrhea every year.

How can I get it?

You can get gonorrhea by having anal, vaginal, or oral sex with someone who has gonorrhea. It can also be passed to the eye by a hand or other body part moistened with infected secretions. If you have had gonorrhea and were treated in the past, you can still get infected again if you have unprotected sex with someone who has gonorrhea. Infections can occur in the throat as a result of oral sex and can be spread to others even if the infection is not present in the anus, vagina or penis. Men and women can get gonorrhea in the anus either through anal sex or spread from another infected body part such as the vagina.

How can I get treated?


Gonorrhea can be cured with the right treatment. It is important that you take all of the medication your doctor prescribes to get rid of your infection. Medication for gonorrhea should not be shared with anyone. Although medication will stop the infection, it will not undo any permanent damage caused by the disease.  It is becoming harder to treat some gonorrhea, as drug-resistant strains of gonorrhea are increasing. If your symptoms continue for more than a few days after receiving treatment, you should contact your health care provider.


What happens if I do not get treated?


Untreated gonorrhea can cause serious and permanent health problems in both women and men.  In women, untreated gonorrhea can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). Some of the complications of PID are the formation of scar tissue that blocks fallopian tubes, ectopic pregnancy (pregnancy outside the womb),  infertility (inability to get pregnant),  and long-term pelvic/abdominal pain. In men, gonorrhea can cause a painful condition in the tubes attached to the testicles. In rare cases, this may cause a man to be sterile or prevent him from being able to father a child.


Rarely, untreated gonorrhea can also spread to your blood or joints which can be life-threatening. Untreated gonorrhea may also increase your chances of getting or giving HIV – the virus that causes AIDS.


What if I am pregnant?


Pregnant women with untreated gonorrhea can also pass the infection on to their baby during birth. This can lead to infections of the eyes and mouth of the baby and can lead to blindness, joint infections, and life-threatening blood infections in the baby. It is important for pregnant women at risk for gonorrhea to talk to their healthcare provider, get tested, and get treated if necessary.


The CDC recommends that all pregnant women under 25 and women who have new sexual partners, multiple sexual partners, and women at high risk for STIs get tested early in their pregnancy. If you are at continued high risk or tested positive for gonorrhea earlier in pregnancy, get tested again.

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